Posted by: Shawn Ragan | May 29, 2008

Expressing Yourself

Icon of Christ at Sinai

As I said before, when I first stepped into an Orthodox Church, I had already understood that icons were not idols. That was not an issue for me, and I really had no problem with other people venerating icons. As I said, it just wasn’t for me.

As I went to services, though, I found something stirring in me…something hungering. My wife, who was not coming to services and in fact was not very happy I was either, was adamantly opposed to the veneration of icons (by veneration I mean showing reverence and respect; for example, making a prostration , crossing oneself, and kissing the icon). Since she was so opposed to it, I had no plans of doing it.

Children have a way of seeing truth and reaching out for it very simply and with great humility. My three children, between the ages of 5 and 10, had all been coming to services with me. It did not take them long before their hearts yearned to go and show respect to Christ, His mother, and the rest of the Saints.

Icon of the Great-Martyr St. George

Let me digress for a moment…my children immediately latched on to the Saints, especially my middle child. He saw an icon of St. George and he was enthralled. He wanted to learn everything there was to know about St. George. He was the first in our family who wanted to pray to the Saints. I had bought an Akathist Book (prayer-hymns), and in it was one to St. George. For those who are unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, I understand this sounds different – I was there once. There was my son, learning about this man who died for his faith – who was a martyr. This was someone I could handle my son looking up to. Now, some might say: “What about Christ?” Why not just have him look up to Christ. Here’s the great thing – he does. Everything in the life of St. George points to one thing – our Lord Jesus Christ. St. George doesn’t replace Christ, he points to Christ. All of the Saints – this is what they do – they point us toward Christ. In looking at their lives (which is apparently important since we read the Book of Acts), we see what it means to be a Christian – to live and die for our Lord.

Back to what I was writing…

My ten-year old was the first: “Dad, can I go and venerate the icons?

“No,” I replied. “You’re mother doesn’t want you too.”

He obeyed.

The next week: “Dad, can I go venerate the icons?”

As I sat there, I didn’t have a good reason in my mind to deny him that which he was seeking. I knew his mother opposed it, but I found that all of my objections had washed away. In fact, I too, wanted to go venerate the icons. I am the boy’s father, and I made a decision.

“Yes, you can. But you are going to have to explain to your mother why you want to do this.”

“Okay,” he smiled and stood in line. To my surprise, my youngest (5) asked if she could go as well. I was somewhat struck by this, nodded, and she went up with a friend of ours – Matthew. I just sat there – awed by this. But what really struck me was when I saw my little girl stand in front of the icon of Christ, cross herself, bow, and kiss the icon – the purity, holiness, and love of that moment struck me in a profound way.

I almost wept. Even though it happened close to a year ago, that image is still in my mind.

You know, I don’t kiss pictures. I have pictures of my wife and my children – I don’t know that I have ever kissed them. Of course, my wife and my children are here with me. I tuck my kids into bed at night. I give them a blessing before school in the morning. I kiss my wife every chance I get. I show affection to them, and quite often. At work, I see their picture, and I long to see them.

They are all here – physically. If that were to change…

When I look at a picture, let’s say of my kids, I know that physically that is paper and ink. That is it.

But is that it? Physically, yes, but in reality – isn’t it more? If I came into your home and spit upon a picture of your wife, would you say “No big deal, it’s just paper and ink.” Not at all, at least most would not. That act would be an offense against the person portrayed in the picture – and an offense against those that love the person portrayed in the picture. Most of us understand that the photo of a loved one is more than just paper and ink…there is something almost spiritual about the picture. The love shown to the photo (or the disrespect) is understood to pass on to the person him/herself.

Have you noticed that if someone has to evacuate a home because of disaster, what it the one possession they try to get out of the home? Often, family pictures. Why, because it is in our nature to understand this simple truth – to understand icons. The truth of icons is around us in this world.

I love God…I love His Son Jesus Christ. I am poor at showing it, and my love is imperfect, but I desire to be closer to Him. You know, we were made to show love. I try to show my wife, my children, family members, friends, etc. that I love them. I do this in a variety of ways, but one of the things I get to do is express it physically. I can hug a friend or a child. I can kiss my wife. Those physical acts help me to understand the reality of the love that I have. Touch is an important part of love, even if its just putting your hand on someone’s shoulder – or just shaking their hand. Touch is part of the human life.

Icon of the Theotokos and Christ by Vladimir

For most of my life, though, I was told that to show any kind of physical expression of love towards my God is wrong. The longing I found in myself was the desire to walk up and kiss the feet of my Lord – to kiss His nail-imprinted hands. To kiss the hands of His Holy Mother. To say “I love You, let me kiss You,” to Him who loves us so – and who came in the flesh for our salvation.

To intellectually look at the veneration of icons, one may not get it. If you want to debate it theologically, I am not the one to argue with…try reading St. John of Damascus. He deals with it theologically…the Church has dealt with this theologically.

What I can say, for me and my family, is that we have an experience I didn’t have growing up. I am able to express myself to my Lord in a profound way (Orthodoxy has given us many ways to reverence, honor, and love Christ). Every chance I get, I can walk up, look at the Holy Icons, prostrate myself or bow before this Sacred Image, and kiss the hands or feet of my Savior. It may not be the physical Christ, here in the flesh, but while I anxiously await His return, this is good by me.

P.S. Some may wonder how my wife reacted when we got home from Church the first time my kids venerated the icons. We told her, she asked our ten year old why he wanted to do it (she wanted to know that it wasn’t because “others were doing it.” He shared with her the reasons why, and his faith.

She said: “OK”

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Hi Shawn. This post was absolutely brilliant. I was going to tackle this topic in my series on my blog, but you’ve done it in such a winsome and disarming way. Simply brilliant. Our four children took to venerating the icons more quickly than my wife and I. It is so moving watching them express their love to Christ, his Mother and the rest of the family of Saints. Their simple expressions made the longing in me grow so quickly that I wanted to join them. Thanks for posting on this topic.

  2. […] Shawn Ragan & “Expressing Yourself” 29 05 2008 I wanted to point to a wonderful post by Shawn Ragan and his experience with venerating the icons. You can read his entire post HERE: […]

  3. Well said. “Lest we become as little children…” Kids get it because they love. We don’t because we think. sigh….

  4. …and a child shall lead them.

    ’nuff said.

  5. thank you. beautifully expressed, this leadership from our dear children! “Out of the mouths of babes hast Thou ordained strength”

  6. […] have already shared my first experience with icons in a post called “Expressing Yourself“  My point here is not to talk so much about icons, but about the Saints themselves.  The […]

  7. Hi Shawn,

    I just stumbled across your website from a Google Icon image search. I’m at work here until 10PM and after a long day of fasting I thought I’d pull up an icon and pray.

    You wrote a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!

    Glory to God for all things!

    Pete in Chicago, USA

  8. Hi Shawn,

    Do you know the story behind the little man sitting behind St George? I have seen this little fellow on other icons of St George in Middle East but I am unable to find an explanation of who he is or why he is there.

    Please let me know if you have any knowledge about him.

    Many thanks,
    Phil.

    • Phil,

      My understanding is the man in the background is Diocletian, the Roman emperor of the first Tetrarchy. St. George was martyred during the Great Persecution in the early 300s, under Diocletian. The little man holds the chain to the dragon that St. George is slaying in the Holy Icon.

      Anyways, that is what I have been told.

      Shawn

  9. Nice WordPress template. I use exactly the same template, am currently exploring Eastern Orthodoxy, and came to your page via google search for a Christ icon a friend might consider for her next tattoo (LOL)…

    GREAT STUFF; you ever listen to the podcasts on http://www.ourlifeinchrist.com?

    • Hi Matthew,

      This is funny. I haven’t been on this blog in several months, and then I got on it tonight for about ten minutes…a few minutes later I got an email saying I had a comment to moderate.

      I used to use a different template, but I like this one too. Our exploration into Orthodoxy took several years, and had its share of ups and downs before we were baptized last August. That, though, has been the greatest thing. Entrance into the Church has been an amazing thing and, even with the struggles it has presented (many!), I could never go back.

      I listened to OLIC podcasts a lot as we were exploring Orthodoxy. And several others on Ancient Faith Radio. Steve Robinson, one of the guys from OLIC, has been a commenter on various posts in my blog.

      God be with you as you search out the Holy Faith!

      In ICXC,

      Ephraim


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: